With six locations in the Oklahoma City metro area, Not Your Average Joe is a quickly growing locally based coffee shop that is living up to its name through its mission, values and the standards it’s setting.
With locations already in Midtown, Norman, Broken Arrow and at Homeland stores on Lincoln and May avenues, the opening of the chain’s newest location March 28 in the Ronald J. Norick Downtown Library in Oklahoma City brings the store count to half a dozen. In addition to business growth, the chain is building a name and reputation through its purpose, people and products.
What is Not Your Average Joe?
Not Your Average Joe is a nonprofit Oklahoma-based coffee shop that offers “meaningful customer facing employment,” as well as “social engagement and continuing education” to students and adults with intellectual, developmental and physical disabilities.
The concept, which allows those commonly overlooked for employment to use and gain skills, came from the mind of Executive Director Tim Herbel as a way to honor his nephew.
“The genesis of not your average Joe is my nephew, Braxton, who was born with cerebral palsy and hydrocephalus,” Herbel said. “Despite his disabilities, he was the joy of our family, and he brought light to everyone with his smiles and giggles — but Braxton experienced a life of exclusion.”
Herbel said people would cross streets to avoid the family when they were out shopping with Braxton, who was nonverbal and non-ambulatory and confined to a wheelchair. Teachers would simply park Braxton’s wheelchair in classroom corners and largely ignore him and at one point the family’s church even asked that Braxton not attend Sunday school or assembly.
Braxton died at the age of 11 and having watched his nephew be left out of so many things, Herbel made a promise “to fight for the cause of inclusion for people of all abilities.”
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How it started, how it’s going
“In 2019, there was a coffee shop, which was formerly Hank’s,” said Madi Taylor, director of campus and community engagement for the company. “They said if you make enough profit, we will donate it to you and so that is when our first store opened — January 1 of 2019.”
The store survived the pandemic and in 2021 opened four additional locations, each employing several “friends” as they’re called by staff, including the location at the Homeland on May that also serves as an Express Employment Training Center.
“Express has partnered with us to help grow our friends with special needs, not just their employment skills, but to work on social engagement, employment and education,” Taylor said. “When friends are on shift there, they are talking to customers, they’re sampling, but they’re also learning how to count money, how to have different life skills.”
As the company continues to grow, one of Herbel’s key tenets remains a central focus. The quality of the products has to match the purpose.
“We didn’t want to have a good mission with a bad product,” Taylor said. “And our coffee is incredible.”
The Not Your Average Joe team includes four master roasters certified with the Specialty Coffee Association, including the state’s first female master roaster and the only barista in the history of the state to make it to the U.S. Barista Championships.
With an in-house chef and menu items ranging from breakfast burritos served all day to the “Suspicious Sandwich,” described by Herbel as a “grown-up PBJ,” the chain is becoming known for more than just coffee and the incredible people working there.
“We catered 700 lunches for Heartland Payment Systems, we did 400 for Express Personnel. We did the Sylvester Stallone set three times, and you only do that once, unless you’re exceptional, you know,” Herbel said. “We have everything now from our sandwiches and our salads to homemade chicken pot pie through the catering.”
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Real impacts on real lives
Not Your Average Joe employs adults and students with intellectual, developmental or physical disabilities across its locations. Through that employment, Taylor said the lives of the friends are impacted as they gain confidence, new skills and increased independence.
The nonprofit also has an added benefit to the local economy, Herbel points out.
“When we hire somebody who most employers overlook because of their ‘special needs,’ we also free up their caregiver to go to work, so we’re releasing two people into the workforce of Oklahoma,” he said.
Taylor said it’s not just the lives of friends and those who care for them that Not Your Average Joe is impacting, though. Through interacting with those employed by the stores, customers learn from their experiences. Taylor said many universities employ people with disabilities to help with equipment for teams, but she believes Not Your Average Joe is pushing the idea of providing employment further and setting a standard for other, larger brands, as well.
“I think that’s a big testament to other businesses like Boeing, Apple, Paycom for them to have the opportunity to hire people with intellectual, developmental, physical disabilities. To walk in here and say ‘Well they can do that, well then they can do this, why don’t we try to be more inclusive and including people with all abilities and hire them,’” Taylor said. “Our motto is ‘Exceptional coffee, even better people’ and I think every day we live up to that.”
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